(Photo provided by Garrettc)
In 2006, Blackboard filed a patent request in many countries in 2006 and won. Then they sued Desire2Learn and won a lawsuit claiming that Desire2Learn had infringed on their patent. Blackboard also "pledged" not to sue open-source course management systems such as Sakai, Moodle and Atutor. Recently the Software Freedom Law Center filed a re-examination request on the patent and the patent office overturned the patent pending appeal on March 31, 2008. The patent was overturned mainly because Blackboard was trying to patent a system with a single user that could have multiple roles within the same system. There are in fact many different systems that precede Blackboard in featuring this and other claimed items and the fact that the patent was even issued originally to Blackboard was absurd.
Not to diminish the importance of this legal battle, but lets move away from legal/business side of things toward the more important usability side of things. I work with both Blackboard and Moodle for different classes that I am teaching and administrating. Moodle is consistently easier for me to work with and for my students to use.
For example, I recently had to add students into groups in Blackboard. To add a student to a group, I had to click "Add users to group." then I had to type in the user's last name and click search. When the user's name came up, I clicked a checkbox next to their name and then clicked submit. Blackboard showed a window that said something with the essence of "you successfully added the member to the group." This window required me to click "ok." To add another member to the group I had to start the process over again and go through these clicks for each member of the group. The amount of clicks that it took to add 4 members to each group was 5 times 4, or 20 clicks.
In Moodle the same action goes like this. I click "add/remove users," then I am presented with a list of all students in the class. I click the 4 that I want to be added into the group and then click the arrow button which adds the users to the group. That is 6 clicks total, and much faster clicks since most clicks did not take me to another page as they did in Blackboard.
When it comes to adding more members to a group, the difference between clicks required in Moodle and clicks required in Blackboard increases exponentially.
And this doesn't even mention the fact that Moodle runs faster at loading pages and responding to my clicks. Nor does it mention the fact that my students have a much easier time navigating in Moodle, and that Moodle has many more features. At BYU-Hawaii, we have worked with learning theories that the latest research supports, Including problem-centered teaching strategies. But whenever I go to Blackboard to implement these, I have to work around it's unwieldy interface just to make something happen. But in Moodle, these items are easy to implement. Probably because Moodle was built to follow Constructivist ideals, and Blackboard works well disseminating information as in the behaviorist approach to teaching. No wonder they feel like they have to sue others, they can't keep up with the latest learning theories and practices in education.
All of the hoopla about patents is troublesome when you consider that a severely inferior system like Blackboard is able to receive a patent and then potentially sue other, more superior products to make sure that we cannot use them.
Thanks a lot Blackboard. For slowing down academia by requiring them to click more, and filing patents to assure that the future is filled with more clicking and less learning.